Additional Book Information
Series: New York Review Books
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
EssayismOn Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction
by Brian Dillon
Essayism is a book about essays and essayists, a study of melancholy and depression, a love letter to belle-lettrists, and an account of the indispensable lifelines of reading and writing. Brian Dillon’s style incorporates diverse features of the essay. By turns agglomerative, associative, digressive, curious, passionate, and dispassionate, his is a branching book of possibilities, seeking consolation and direction from Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, Roland Barthes, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Georges Perec, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Susan Sontag, to name just a few of his influences. Whether he is writing on origins, aphorisms, coherence, vulnerability, anxiety, or a number of other subjects, his command of language, his erudition, and his own personal history serve not so much to illuminate or magnify the subject as to discover it anew through a kaleidoscopic alignment of attention, thought, and feeling, a dazzling and momentary suspension of disparate elements, again and again.
Written in lucid, exacting and unsentimental prose, Essayism is a vital book for people who turn to art—and especially writing—for consolation.
—Lauren Elkin, The Guardian
Brian Dillon could easily have written another book about the essay—its hallmarks, history, current role in literary turf wars, etc. What a relief, then, to find his Essayismnavigating away, in its opening pages, from such a project, and turning instead toward this surprising, probing, edifying, itinerant, and eventually quite moving book, which serves as both anautobiographia literaria and a vital exemplar of how deeply literature and language can matter in a life.
—Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
Dillon’s brilliantly roaming, roving set of essays on essays is a recursive treasure, winkling out charm, sadness, and strangeness; stimulating, rapturous, and provocative in its own right.
—Olivia Laing, author of The Lonely City
Brian Dillon has written a moving and vulnerable love letter to the essay as a genre—a region wherein fragmentation provides secret consolation. Depression and essayism, he brilliantly demonstrates, are twins. His own language has never been so sharp, suggestive, coiled—deliciously given over to idiosyncrasy. Interpretive treats abound: Dillon’s appreciations of Hardwick, Barthes, Sebald, and other fellow travelers are beautiful acts of critical generosity and acumen. All these wonders occur within a shattering account of literature’s power not to alleviate gloom but to justify (by illuminating) the fits and starts of consciousness.
—Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Humiliation
One of our most innovative and elegant nonfictioneers.
—Robert Macfarlane, author of The Old Ways
This book may hover (inter alia) around Montaigne’s famous tumble from his horse; only, in Dillon’s hands, it’s the essay itself that’s tumbling, crashing through the strata of its history, all its previous landscapes (those of Woolf, Hardwick, Blanchot, Cioran...) fragmenting and spinning in delirious recombinations.
—Tom McCarthy, author of Satin Island
Brian Dillon’s gymnastic brain here embodies the long shadows and descriptive delicacies of many essayist masters: it is a searing and addictive voice, ambitious to probe all corners of this condition called writing.
—Helen Marten, winner of 2016 Turner Prize